Honor Our Fallen Heroes on Memorial Day

Orange County has a long and proud military tradition.  From 1942 to 1999, Irvine was home to Marine Air Station El Toro, the largest Marine Corps Air Station on the West Coast. During World War II, the Korean Conflict, and the Vietnam War, thousands of United States Marines, as well as airmen, sailors and soldiers, departed for war from MCAS El Toro.  Many never returned.

As the daughter of a combat veteran, as the cousin of a Marine who was killed in action, and as an Irvine City Council Member, I am proud of Irvine’s commitment to honoring our veterans, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.

For many, many years, my family and I have attended Irvine’s two beautiful Memorial Day ceremonies — a community-led candle-lighting ceremony at the Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial and the official City of Irvine Memorial Day Ceremony at Col. Bill Barber Marine Corps. Memorial Park next to the Civic Center.

Sadly, this year both ceremonies have been cancelled due to the need to limit non-essential gatherings to combat the spread of COVID-19 in our community.

This year, the official City of Irvine Memorial Day Ceremony will be presented online beginning May 25, 2020, for the community to view at their convenience.  The presentation will include words from our mayor, remarks from officers from the City’s adopted 2/11 Marine Battalion, and musical performances from past ceremonies.  For more information, call 949-724-6606.

The Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial, dedicated in 2010, located at 4531 Bryan Avenue, Irvine CA 92620, is the nation’s first and only memorial dedicated exclusively to listing the names of all the fallen American service members in Afghanistan and Iraq. The names of every service member who has died in Afghanistan and Iraq are engraved in granite in a permanent memorial, to ensure that generations of Americans will remember and honor them with gratitude as we do today. Regarding the Northwood Honor and Gratitude Memorial Ceremony, the following notice has been posted on their Facebook page:  

“To all our SoCal friends, it is with great sadness that we announce the City of Irvine, in keeping with the stay at home order, has CANCELED the Memorial Day Ceremony at the Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial.

The City will be generously donating a beautiful wreath of remembrance.  American flags will be placed around the perimeter of the memorial and candles for lighting for those who would like to visit during the Memorial Day weekend.

There will be staff at the community center if anyone needs help finding the name of a loved one or needs name rubbing materials.

We encourage everyone to please take a few minutes of your time to stop by and pay your respects during the holiday weekend.

To our beloved Gold Star families . . . please know that even though there is no ceremony we will never forget the sacrifices your heroes made for our freedom. Thankfully this beautiful memorial is a daily reminder that our community has not forgotten those who bravely put on our Nation’s cloth and gave the ultimate sacrifice.”

As in past years, I will thinking especially of my cousin, PFC Irwin Handler, USMC, who was killed at the Battle of Chosen Reservoir during the Korean War, and of the son of family friends, Lance Corporal Donald J. Hogan, USMC, Navy Cross, who was killed in Afghanistan.

 

I will also be remembering Irvine’s own fallen heroes:

Petty Officer Regan Young

Second Lieutenant Mark J. Daily

Lance Corporal Sean Horn

Chief Warrant Officer Steven Michael Larrabee

Major Michael David Martino

Specialist Justin W Pollard

Lance Corporal Michael S. Probst

Major Charles R. Soltes Jr.

Lieutenant Commander Keith E. Taylor

Although we are not able to gather together physically this Memorial Day, we will be gathered together in our hearts

As stated so beautifully and appropriately by the Veterans of Foreign Wars:

“Pausing to remember and honor America’s fallen service members is a practice dating back more than 100 years. Since the days of the Civil War, humble Americans have gathered together on Memorial Day to remember and pay tribute to all who have fought and selflessly surrendered the precious gift of life, so that other could live free.

Again we gather this Memorial Day, as a nation solemnly united in remembrance of the fallen defenders of our great nation. Freedom is not free. It has come at great cost, paid for with the lives of our sons and daughters, husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, friends and comrades.

Every American owes a great debt to the courageous men and women who have selflessly given their all to defend and protect our way of life. And while giving back to the extent they deserve is impossible, celebrating their memory and honoring their most selfless deeds offers a start.

This Memorial Day, pause to reflect on the absolute selflessness of the 1.3 million members of our nation’s military who paid the price needed to ensure our way of life endures, and let us not forget the families whose pain will never go away, but may lessen with our thanks and prayers.”

God Bless our fallen, their families, and our men and women in uniform all over the world.

The People Have Spoken: The Irvine City Council Should Designate the ARDA as the Site for the Orange County Veterans Cemetery. UPDATED!

UPDATE[May 13, 2020] At last night’s Irvine City Council meeting, the Council voted 4-1 to agree with me and to adopt the citizens’ initiative calling for locating a state veterans cemetery at the originally designated ARDA site adjacent to the Great Park on the ground of the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS El Toro).  The ARDA is located in the 68th Assembly District.  As the Assemblymember for the 68th Assembly District, I will work to ensure that the state fulfills its promise to “acquire, study, design, develop, construct, and equip a state-owned and state-operated Southern California Veterans Cemetery” on the hallowed grounds of the former El Toro Marine Base.

The time has come to settle the issue of where to locate a state veterans cemetery in Irvine. The people have spoken – twice – on this issue. Accordingly, at the next Irvine City Council meeting, I will propose that the City Council adopt, as an ordinance, the recent citizens’ initiative calling for locating a state veterans cemetery at the originally designated ARDA site adjacent to the Great Park.

Adopting the initiative as an ordinance will finally settle this long-divisive issue in the way that the people of this City have now twice demanded — first, by their overwhelming rejection in 2018 of Measure B and the land exchange, and most recently, by gathering nearly 20,000 signatures expressing the residents’ desire to locate the veterans cemetery on the ARDA.

Adopting the citizen’s initiative as an ordinance would also allow construction of the much-needed Orange County State Veterans Cemetery to begin as early as possible without any further political delays.

I have been fighting for a veterans cemetery on the hallowed grounds of the former El Toro Marine Air Station for many years, beginning in 2013, long before I was elected to the City Council.  As I wrote to the Irvine City Council in early 2014:

Melissa Fox in May 2014 urging the Irvine City Council to fulfill its promise to create an Orange County Veterans Cemetery without delay.

“Orange County has a long and proud military tradition. Currently, more than two million veterans live in California – more than in any other state. This military tradition continues into the present, as nearly 7,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars live in Orange County. Yet Orange County veterans do not have their own official military cemetery and those in Orange County who want to visit a veteran’s grave in a national cemetery must travel to Riverside, San Diego or Los Angeles counties. It is time that Orange County offered its veterans – who have sacrificed so much for us – a final resting place close to their families and loved ones. I believe that a portion of the Great Park in Irvine, which was once the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, would be an altogether fitting and proper location for this Orange County Veterans Cemetery, as well as a lasting memorial to the Great Park’s military heritage. As an Irvine resident and a member of the Irvine Community Services Commission – and as the daughter of an Orange County Korean War combat veteran – I urge you to create an Orange County Veterans Cemetery and, also, to locate this cemetery in a portion of the Great Park that was once the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.”

Control Tower of MCAS El Toro, still visible on the ARDA site.

On March 11, 2014, I cheered with others in the audience when the City Council unanimously voted to designate the Amended and Restated Development Agreement [ARDA] site in the Orange County Great Park in Irvine as the future site of a veterans cemetery. But when I became an Irvine City Councilmember in 2016, I learned that there had been no progress on a veterans cemetery in the intervening two years. The reason for this lack of progress, I was informed, was the high cost of the decontamination and demolition necessary on the ARDA site.

Marine Corps A4 Skyhawks in flight over El Toro, 1961

Because construction of a veterans cemetery at the ARDA site did not appear to be financially viable for the City of Irvine, I supported the Strawberry Fields site (and the land exchange with FivePoint) as a less expensive, more practical, and faster alternative to the ARDA site. This land exchange proposal became Measure B, which was placed on the ballot for the voters in June 2018. The land exchange was supported by the Orange County Veteran’s Memorial Park Foundation and many national and local veterans organizations, as well as both the Democratic and Republican Parties of Orange County. 

The voters, however, decisively rejected Measure B and the land exchange, with 63 percent opposed. I understood from the defeat of Measure B that Irvine residents did not trust the City Council to put the people’s interests ahead of the interests of Irvine’s powerful developers, and, specifically, did not want to risk the possibility that the land exchange with FivePoint that would lead to massive development and more traffic congestion.

MCAS El Toro patch, designed by Walt Disney.

Following the voters’ rejection of Measure B, it again seemed that the construction of a veterans cemetery at the Great Park had stalled. However, several members of the California State Legislature continued to look for a way to create an Orange County Veterans Cemetery on the grounds of the former El Toro Marine Base.

Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, who taken the lead in earlier legislation regarding an Orange County Veterans Cemetery, introduced Assembly Bill 368, which requires the California Department of Veterans Affairs toJoining Democrat Sharon Quirk-Silva (AD 65) in support of this bill was a bipartisan group of Orange County legislators, including Republican Assemblymembers Tyler Diep (AD 72), William Brough (AD 73) and Philip Chen (AD 55), as well as Democrats Senator Thomas J. Umberg (SD 34) and Assemblymember Tom Daily (AD 69).  These legislators wrote to the Irvine City Council stating, “Today, we are ready to work with State and Federal officials to secure funding for the Southern California Veterans Memorial Park and Cemetery.  We ask that you stand by your previous commitment to provide a resting place for California veterans at the ARDA site.”

Most important to me, this legislation committed the State of California, rather than the residents of Irvine, to provide the funding for the veterans cemetery. Initially, the legislation specified state financial support only for the ARDA site. After pressure from FivePoint and Mayor Christina Shea, the bill was amended to apply to either the ARDA site or a new site now proposed by Mayor Christina Shea and developer FivePoint. This newly proposed site was called the “Golf Course” site because it was comprised, in part, of land in the Great Park that had originally been designated to become a city-run golf course. However, the new site also included land that had previously been designated as part of the Orange County Great Park’s long-awaited “Cultural Terrace,” meant to include museums, botanical gardens, and other very popular cultural amenities that the people of Orange County had been waiting for a very long time. 

WW2 Era Marine aviators at MCAS El Toro.

Crucially, this new and hastily unveiled “Golf Course” site has never been studied or evaluated – by either the City or the State — for use as a veterans cemetery. As a result, the claims of FivePoint and Mayor Shea that the Golf Course site is a significantly less costly alternative to the ARDA are wholly conjectural. The truth is, since we have not actually studied the question, we have no idea whether locating the veterans cemetery on the Golf Course site rather than the ARDA would save a penny for the taxpayers.

We do know, however, that FivePoint very much wants to develop the ARDA site. Of course, this development of the ARDA site by FivePoint can not happen if the ARDA becomes a veterans cemetery.

We also know that Mayor Shea very much wants FivePoint to be able to develop the ARDA. In fact, when discussing this new alternative site with a group of Great Park residents, Mayor Shea stated that her plan was to give FivePoint a 99-year lease for development on the ARDA. Mayor Shea further said that Golf Course site was really a “diversion” or “short-time solution” to buy time and ensure that the ARDA did not become a veterans cemetery. She made it clear that to her, whether a veterans cemetery was actually built on the Golf Course site – or anywhere in Irvine — was secondary to making sure that the ARDA site remained available for development by FivePoint. In other words, Mayor Shea and FivePoint still intended to do precisely what the voters in defeating Measure B had specifically rejected.

Marine Corps Air Station El Toro Air Show Poster, 1991

For these reasons, when it again came before the City Council in April 2019, I supported designation of the ARDA as the site for a veterans cemetery, for the State of California to “acquire, study, design, develop, construct, and equip a state-owned and state-operated Southern California Veterans Cemetery” on the grounds of the former El Toro Marine Base. Nevertheless, the Irvine City Council rejected the ARDA and designated the Golf Course site for a veterans cemetery by a vote of 4 to 1, with only myself opposed.

The citizens’ initiative drive followed. Advocates for the ARDA site were able to collect nearly 20,000 signatures of Irvine residents to force the City Council to locate the veterans cemetery at the ARDA or place the issue on the ballot in November 2020.

I have never approached this issue from a partisan perspective, or with concern for anything but properly honoring O.C. veterans like my father. My sole concern now — as it has been from the beginning of this effort — is doing whatever I can to ensure that an Orange County Veterans Cemetery becomes a reality.

My criteria for deciding where to locate the veterans cemetery has also remained consistent: I support the site that I believe is most viable, most likely to be completed, and at the least cost to Irvine taxpayers. That site is the ARDA.

Our veterans deserve a final resting place close to their families and loved ones. Veterans like my father have waited long enough for Irvine to do the right thing.

Let’s build an Orange County Veterans Cemetery at the ARDA without further unnecessary delay.

Let’s listen to the people.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Fox Family! Thanksgiving is a Time to Give to Those In Need

We have much for which we are grateful.

We are grateful for this great nation, for our freedoms, and for those whose sacrifices, past and present, have made those freedoms endure for generations.

We are grateful for our families and friends, and for the love that makes life worthwhile.

We are grateful for our beautiful City of Irvine.

We are grateful for the blessings of our beautiful planet and our beautiful state of California.

We are grateful for our Police and Firefighters, our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and Airmen.

We are grateful, too, for everyone in our community and our nation who protects us and serves those in need.

We are grateful for the volunteers who comfort the sick, care for the young and the aged, share their knowledge and skills, and keep us moving forward.

We are also grateful that we are fortunate enough to be able to help others.

Our family, especially during the holidays, supports ClothingDonations.org, a service of Vietnam Veterans of America.  ClothingDonations.org will pick up your used clothes and household goods at your convenience and use them to support programs that address the needs of all our veterans.

We also support Families Forward, an Irvine-based organization that assists Orange County families in financial crisis to achieve and maintain self-sufficiency and helps these families to once again become independent, productive residents of the community. During the holidays, Families Forward also provides in-need families with festive food baskets and personalized holiday gifts.

Another worthy organization is the California Association of Food Banks, founded in 1995 to help hungry people throughout California, including our local Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County and the Community Action Partnership of Orange County Food Bank.

Our City of Irvine proudly and gratefully supports the Irvine 2/11 Marine Adoption Committee, which provides charitable and educational activities and support for the benefit and welfare of the United States Marines and their families assigned to Camp Pendleton, California, with special emphasis on the Marines and families of the 2nd Battalion, 11th Marines.

Donations of toys can be made to the 2/11 Marines Holiday Toy Drive benefiting families of Irvine’s adopted 2/11 Marine Battalion. Help bring joy to these families during the holidays by donating a new, unwrapped gift suitable for infants or children ages 12 and younger.  Donations can be dropped off through December 14 at the Irvine Civic Center, Irvine Police Headquarters, and the Great Park Visitors Center.

We also endorse giving to Socks for Heroes, which ships socks along with other essentials to United States Marine Corps combat infantry units, provides Marine children the ability to take advantage of swimming lessons, sports, and camps, and provides other programs for single Marines and Marine families during deployments.

Gift cards for Firefighters can be mailed or delivered to the OCFA Firefighter’s Benevolent Association for Firefighters in need.  Monetary donations can be made to Firefighter organizations such as the OCFA Foundation and the Wildland Firefighter Foundation.  Donations can also be made to the California Fire Museum and Safety Leaning Center,

Many other worthy non-profit organizations that provide assistance to the residents of Irvine and surrounding areas can be found on the Charity Directory of the City of Irvine’s website.

Each year at Thanksgiving, we remember our friend Michael Kinslow and his beautiful Prayer of Thanksgiving for those who protect and those who serve:

Thank you God for every woman and man who risks their life for my freedom and safety.

Please bless their families with peace.

Thank you God for every child, woman, and man who volunteers in my community. All of those who feed the hungry, provide shelter, and all who put their hearts, minds, and souls into building up others and caring for all of your creatures.

Please bless them in their own time of need.

Amen.

Melissa

Honor Our Veterans at Irvine’s Veterans Day Ceremony on Monday, November 11, 2019

Veterans Day is a time to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and commitment to serve and sacrifice for the common good.

In honor of our veterans and in support of their families, the City of Irvine will host a special Veterans Day Ceremony on Monday, November 11th from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the formal garden area at the Colonel Bill Barber Marine Corps Memorial Park.

The ceremony will honor all our service members – past and present Honor Guards from the Irvine Police Department and Irvine’s own adopted 2/11 Marines will lead the opening and closing ceremonies.

As the daughter of a combat veteran, I know the tremendous value of veterans’ service, their core principles of honor, courage, and commitment.

As a member of the Irvine City Council, I am proud that Irvine truly appreciates the commitment and sacrifice of our military veterans. It is always an honor to celebrate the service of our men and women of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard, and to thank them for what they’ve given to keep our nation free.

Please join me in honoring our veterans on this Veterans Day.

Colonel Bill Barber Marine Corps Memorial Park is located at 4 Civic Center, Irvine CA 92606

For more information, call 949-724-6606.

Join Me on Saturday, June 22, to Support the Irvine 2/11 Marine Adoption Committee Car Wash Fundraiser 2019

Join me on Saturday, June 22, 2019, for the Annual Car Wash fundraiser in support of Irvine 2/11 Marine Adoption Committee to directly benefit the 2/11 Marines.

The car wash will take place from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm at Lakeview Senior Center in Mike Ward Community Park in Woodbridge.

Irvine is proud of its military heritage, especially its close connection to the United States Marine Corps.

From 1943 to 1999, Irvine was the home of Marine Air Station El Toro, which was once the largest Marine air station on the West Coast. Thousands of Marines served here, and thousands more flew from here to battles in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.

Many never returned.

On September 15, 2007, the 2nd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division (2/11) from Camp Pendleton, was officially “adopted” by the City of Irvine. The City of Irvine and the 2/11 Marines made a pledge to encourage mutually beneficial interactions between the community and the battalion.

The 1st Marine Division is the oldest, largest and most decorated division in the United States Marine Corps. The 2nd Battalion, 11th Marines (2/11) is a 155mm howitzer battalion based at Camp Pendleton, California. Its primary mission is to provide artillery support to the 5th Marine Regiment in time of conflict. At any time, the command has roughly 750 Marines and Sailors assigned to it.

The battalion’s exemplary service ranges from France in World War I to the Battles of Guadalcanal and Okinawa in the Pacific in World War II to Inchon and the Chosin Reservoir in the Korean War (where my cousin USMC Pvt. Irwin Handler was killed in action), to Hue and Phu Bai in Vietnam to Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the Gulf War to Operation Enduring Freedom in Kuwait to the more recent campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Irvine 2/11 Marine Adoption Committee , a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, provides charitable and educational activities and support for the benefit and welfare of the United States Marines and their families assigned to Camp Pendleton, with special emphasis on the Marines and families of the 2nd Battalion, 11th Marines (“2/11 Marines”).

Additionally, the Committee seeks to educate and inform the community regarding the 2/11’s activities and responsibilities.  The Committee accomplishes its goal by soliciting private and public donations of cash, food, beverages, and new and used material goods to help underwrite the cost of sponsoring 2/11 Marines and their families.

The Irvine 2/11 Marine Adoption Committee welcomes the Irvine community to support our adopted battalion by participating and donating to a variety of activities. These activities include holiday and pre-deployment events, care packages, toy drives and more.

What: Annual Car Wash fundraiser in support of Irvine 2/11 Marine Adoption Committee to directly benefit the 2/11 Marines.
When: Saturday, June 22, 2019, 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Where: Lakeview Senior Center Parking Lot, 20 Lake Rd, Irvine, CA 92604 

See you there!

Join Me to Honor our Fallen Heroes in Two Ceremonies this Memorial Day Weekend

Please join me on Memorial Day  weekend as we honor the brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation and pays special tribute to our local service members and veterans.

Orange County has a long and proud military tradition.

From 1942 to 1999, Irvine was home to Marine Air Station El Toro, the largest Marine Corps Air Station on the West Coast. During World War II, the Korean Conflict, and the Vietnam War, thousands of United States Marines, as well as airmen, sailors and soldiers, departed for war from MCAS El Toro.

Many never returned.

As the daughter of a combat veteran, as the cousin of a Marine who was killed in action, and as an Irvine City Councilmember, I am proud of Irvine’s commitment to honoring our veterans, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.
Irvine will honor our fallen heroes in two ceremonies this Memorial Day weekend:

Sunday, May 26, 2018 at 4:00 p.m. 

Candle Lighting Ceremony: Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial 

4531 Bryan Avenue, Irvine CA 92620 

The Northwood Gratitude and Honor Memorial, dedicated in 2010, is the nation’s first and only memorial dedicated exclusively to listing the names of all the fallen American service members in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The names of every service member who has died in Afghanistan and Iraq are engraved in granite in a permanent memorial, to assure that future generations of Americans will remember and honor them with gratitude as we do today.

The ceremony will honor our fallen heroes from all generations, with special tribute to those fallen heroes of the recent and ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The candle lighting ceremony will include presentations from and honor Gold Star families. Please bring lawn chairs or blankets for seating.

Monday, May 27, 2019 at 10:00 a.m. 

Memorial Day Ceremony: Col. Bill Barber Marine Corps Memorial Park 

4 Civic Center Plaza, Irvine CA 92606 

Col. Bill Barber Marine Corps Memorial Park, located next to City Hall, is named in honor of Korean War Medal of Honor recipient and Irvine resident Marine Corps Colonel William E. Barber (1919-2002).

Attendees will have the opportunity to memorialize our troops’ sacrifice by writing a brief Remembrance Card to be posted on a memory board.

As I have done in past years, I will be filling out a memorial card for my cousin, PFC Irwin Handler, USMC, who was killed in Korea, and for the son of family friends, LCPL Donald J. Hogan, USMC, Navy Cross, who was killed in Afghanistan.

Irvine will also specifically honor our own fallen heroes:

Petty Officer Regan Young

Second Lieutenant Mark J. Daily

Lance Corporal Sean Horn

Chief Warrant Officer Steven Michael Larrabee

Major Michael David Martino

Specialist Justin W Pollard

Lance Corporal Michael S. Probst

Major Charles R. Soltes Jr.

Lieutenant Commander Keith E. Taylor

Cards will be also available for well-wishers to send a message of appreciation and support to Irvine’s adopted 211/Marine Battalion.

As stated so beautifully and appropriately by the Veterans of Foreign Wars:

“Pausing to remember and honor America’s fallen service members is a practice dating back more than 100 years. Since the days of the Civil War, humble Americans have gathered together on Memorial Day to remember and pay tribute to all who have fought and selflessly surrendered the precious gift of life, so that other could live free.

Again we gather this Memorial Day, as a nation solemnly united in remembrance of the fallen defenders of our great nation. Freedom is not free. It has come at great cost, paid for with the lives of our sons and daughters, husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, friends and comrades.

Every American owes a great debt to the courageous men and women who have selflessly given their all to defend and protect our way of life. And while giving back to the extent they deserve is impossible, celebrating their memory and honoring their most selfless deeds offers a start.

This Memorial Day, pause to reflect on the absolute selflessness of the 1.3 million members of our nation’s military who paid the price needed to ensure our way of life endures, and let us not forget the families whose pain will never go away, but may lessen with our thanks and prayers.”

God Bless our fallen, their families, and our men and women in uniform all over the world.

Orange County Veterans Deserve a Final Resting Place. The ARDA is the Only Site that has a Real Chance of Receiving the Necessary Funding. Let’s Get it Done!

I have been fighting for a veterans cemetery on the hallowed grounds of the former El Toro Marine Air Station for many years, beginning in 2013.

As I wrote to the Irvine City Council in early 2014:

“Orange County has a long and proud military tradition. Currently, more than two million veterans live in California – more than in any other state.  This military tradition continues into the present, as nearly 7,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars live in Orange County. Yet Orange County veterans do not have their own official military cemetery and those in Orange County who want to visit a veteran’s grave in a national cemetery must travel to Riverside, San Diego or Los Angeles counties.”

“It is time that Orange County offered its veterans – who have sacrificed so much for us – a final resting place close to their families and loved ones.  I believe that a portion of the Great Park in Irvine, which was once the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, would be an altogether fitting and proper location for this Orange County Veterans Cemetery, as well as a lasting memorial to the Great Park’s military heritage.”

“As an Irvine resident and a member of the Irvine Community Services Commission – and as the daughter of an Orange County Korean War combat veteran – I urge you to create an Orange County Veterans Cemetery and, also, to locate this cemetery in a portion of the Great Park that was once the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.”

On March 11, 2014, I cheered when the City Council unanimously voted to designate the Amended and Restated Development Agreement [ARDA] site in the Orange County Great Park in Irvine as the future site of a verterans cemetery.

But when I became an Irvine City Councilmember in 2016, I learned that there had been no progress on a veterans cemetery in the intervening two years because, I was informed, of the high cost of the decontamination and demolition necessary on the originally designated ARDA site.

Because the ARDA site did not appear to be financially viable, I, along with the Orange County Veteran’s Memorial Park Foundation and many national and local veterans organizations, supported the Strawberry Fields site as a less expensive, more practical, and faster alternative.

When the voters rejected the Strawberry Fields site as causing too much traffic and being too close to the freeway, I then proposed, along with Irvine City Councilmember Christina Shea, using a portion of the Orange County Great Park (and the former MCAS El Toro) that is currently planned for a golf course to be used instead for a veterans cemetery.

Subsequently, a site was proposed in Anaheim Hills near the 91 Freeway.  While I am not opposed to that site, the fact is that it has not received support from the Assembly, has not received any financial backing from either the county, state, or federal government, and is not located on the historically appropriate grounds of the former MCAS El Toro. It does not appear to be viable.

Now several of our state legislators have recently indicated a strong preference for the ARDA site originally designated by the Irvine City Council.

Assembly Bill 368, authored by Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silva (AD 65) and currently before the Assembly Veterans Affairs Committee, states that the California Department of Veterans Affairs “shall acquire, study, design, develop, construct, and equip a state-owned and state-operated Southern California Veterans Cemetery, which shall be located at the site of the former Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, on 125 acres known as the Amended and Restated Development Agreement [ARDA] Site in the Orange County Great Park in the City of Irvine.”

Significantly, several Orange County members of the legislature, from both sides of the aisle — Democrats Senator Thomas J. Umberg (SD 34) and Assemblymembers Sharon Quirk-Silva (AD 65) and Tom Daily (AD 69) and Republican Assemblymembers Tyler Diep (AD 72), William Brough (AD 73) and Philip Chen (AD 55) — have pledged to allocate the funds necessary for the decontamination of the site and the construction of a veterans cemetery in that location and urged the Irvine City City to re-designate it as the official site.

Their letter states, “Today, we are ready to work with State and Federal officials to secure funding for the Southern California Veterans Memorial Park and Cemetery.  We ask that you stand by your previous commitment to provide a resting place for California veterans at the ARDA site.”

In addition, Nick Berardino, President of VALOR (Veterans Alliance of Orange County) and a Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War, who has been advocating for a veterans cemetery for years, has responded to the legislators’ letter by saying “We are excited that the legislature is poised to support the veterans cemetery and impressed that the Orange County delegation is able to secure the funding in this years budget.”

This week, on April 9, 2019, Assembly Bill 368 was unanimously approved (10-0) for passage by the Assembly Veterans Affairs Committee and referred to the Appropriations Committee.

Accordingly, it is now clear that the only site that has a real chance of receiving the necessary funding for an Orange County veterans cemetery is the ARDA site.

For this reason, I am withdrawing my support for the golf course site option and joining with these state legislators in calling for the Irvine City Council to again designate the ARDA as the site for a veterans cemetery and calling on the state and federal government to provide the funding needed to build a veterans cemetery on the ARDA site in the Great Park on the hallowed grounds of the former El Toro Marine Station.

Further, this month, United States Representative Gilbert Cisneros (CA 39), a retired naval officer and a member of the Congressional Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies has urged the federal government to step up and provide financial help for our long-overdue veterans cemetery in Orange County.

He wrote to the Subcommittee: “I urge you to provide increased funding for the Veterans State Cemetery Grant program in order to support a veterans cemetery in Orange County. With 3.19 million residents, Orange County has a disproportionately high population of veterans. However, it does not have a single veterans cemetery. Local veterans have been campaigning for a veterans cemetery for years, but the federal government has failed to rise to the occasion. While local entities are pursuing a state veterans cemetery, federal funding should be made available in order to get this project across the finish line. I urge you to increase the VA’s State Cemetery Grant program funding to ensure this long overdue project does not suffer any further delays.”

Along with the Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation, which has led the fight years-long fight for an Orange County veterans cemetery, I say “Hurrah!” to Rep. Cisneros’ letter.

Based on all these factors, as a member of the Irvine City Council and the daughter of a combat veteran, I hereby fully commit to the goal of building a Southern California Veterans Cemetery on the grounds of the former MCAS El Toro at the ARDA site.

I have never approached this issue from a partisan perspective, or with concern for anything but properly honoring O.C. veterans like my father. My sole concern now — as it has been from the beginning of this effort — is doing whatever I can to ensure that an O.C. Veterans Cemetery becomes a reality.

I look forward to working in a positive, bipartisan way with our state and federal representatives, other Irvine City Councilmembers, the Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation, veterans organizations, community groups, and private donors, doing whatever it takes and pulling together in the same direction, to finally establish the Orange County veterans cemetery that we have fought for and needed for so long.

Our veterans deserve a final resting place close to their families and loved ones.

Let’s get it done.